Friday, May 1, 2015

Arkansas Art and Reviews

Yellow wildflowers
I’d heard about the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and since it's spring I thought it would be nice to drive up to the northwestern corner of Arkansas. I’d expected lots of wild flowers and was a bit disappointed that they hadn’t made their appearance yet, but the vistas were still lovely in their shades of new spring green. One of my favorite places to go in either the fall or the spring is Queen Wilhelmina State park. Getting to the museum and back was surely going to consume more than one day, so an overnight at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge seemed like a great idea. Just like the late-blooming flowers, the lodge was a late-bloomer, opening this summer after extensive renovations. Oh well, the views from the Talimena Scenic Drive were lovely.

Our path led us from the DFW Metroplex up to the Sherman-Denison area then further east
Ranch road in Oklahoma
to Paris. Since it was too early for lunch, we went on north to Hugo, Oklahoma.  Hugo is an interesting little town whose claim to fame is serving as the winter base to two now defunct circuses and two that are still active. The Mount Olivet Cemetery on the southern edge of town has several monuments to well-known circus performers and to a couple of national rodeo stars. Hugo was the relocation area of the Choctaw Indians and is also the county seat of Choctaw County. As we traveled along, we found that the toll roads in Oklahoma honor the Texas toll tags, a nice surprise.

Once we had lunch, we headed on to Idabel, another small town in Oklahoma, then up
View from Talimena Scenic Drive
through Broken Bow and finally onto one of our favorite drives, Oklahoma State Highway 1, the Talimena Scenic Drive (Arkansas State Highway 88). This road runs along the crest of crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest. There are oodles of places to pull off for good views of the mountains and this year to get close to the dogwood trees. The lovely white blossoms of these trees were a bright punctuation to the almost unrelieved green of the forests. It’s amazing what rain will do for plant growth and just how much haze the resultant humidity produces. The Old Pioneer Cemetery is one place we stop each time we visit. Down the hill a bit is the remains of a graveyard that was started sometime in the late 1800s. Although the stones are all but non-existent, there are plenty of stories about this place including the haunting by a young girl and the frequent sighting of a mist hanging over one small corner of the area. The last person laid to rest in this cemetery was in the 1940s; the family farm dated from the earliest settlers and the current owner was determined to live there until he died, which he did.
Dogwood in the forest

Although it was only another couple of hours into Bentonville, we decided to spend the night in Mena, Arkansas. Mena is the county seat of Polk County and as the gateway town to some of the larger tourist attractions in Arkansas, has several small, cute shops to explore. While there are several lodges located in the area, we were surprised at how few hotels and restaurants were to be found in Mena, itself. When we’re on a road trip through small towns we generally stop every three to four hours and many times we stretch our legs in the local Walmart. And many small towns in Arkansas have a local Walmart, but between Mena and Bentonville are more businesses with the Walton name on them than one would expect.

As with many large, neighboring towns, Fayetteville and Bentonville have been linked by
Rosie the Riveter and Vince
several suburbs. The place we were out to explore was the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Founded by Alice Walton and designed by Moshe Safdie, it officially opened in 2011. Admission is paid by Walmart, allowing visitors access to the permanent collection, with no restrictions of the number of photographs you can take (no flash, though). The art is viewed in halls rather than in rooms, for the most part, allowing us to wander slowly down corridors without having to backtrack to see the collection.  For the most part, you move through the history of the US from the artists’ viewpoints from the 1500s through present day. Along with paintings, there are several quite nice pieces of sculpture inside the building. Outside there are trails through the woods and along the creek that take you to other sculptures. The architecture, along with these trails, makes the environment a part of this museum. It would be a great place to do just to sit and look at the ponds or to stroll down the trails. While I liked many of the
Marsyas Enchanting the Hares
paintings on display, my favorite was Marsyas Enchanting the Hares by Elihu Vedder. I am definitely going to have to return to this museum so that I can enjoy the art, once again, and see what’s new. Shortly the Bachman Wilson House by architect Frank Lloyd Wright will be on display and I’m sure that there will other pieces of art will be rotated through the collection.  In particular, the Stieglitz collection is on a two-year rotation with Fisk University and there is a yearly rotation among the musée du Louvre in Paris, High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Our trip back to DFW had to take a different route, so we traveled east to Muskogee,
Blue-eyed Grass, Indian Paintbrush and Crimson Clover
Oklahoma then south to Eufaula and into McAlester. US highway 69 across Eufaula Lake is absolutely horrible and no amount of pretty scenery can make it better; if you go this way be prepared to have your teeth rattled out of your head. The road from Atoka to Durant across the prairie at this time of the year is lovely, particularly if you like the dusty orange of Indian Paintbrush and the bright yellow of Broomweed. Durant is the capital of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and its headquarters. It is also the Magnolia Capital of Oklahoma. I’m hoping we’ll get back up there in May to see the Magnolia trees in bloom and to see first-hand the monument to the ‘World's Largest Peanut’.

Horse sculptures in Durant, Oklahoma
We had a good time on this trip sampling diverse restaurants, enjoying new places, and staying in different lodging. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

What we did…
Four and one-half carrots
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (600 Museum Way, Bentonville, AR, 479-418-
5700) is a wonderful building in a beautiful setting. The floors of the museum are sycamore, ‘trash trees’ in the building footprint that Alice Walton couldn’t stand to see burned and asked that they be incorporated into the building. The artwork is excellent in its historical presentation, although I’m not a great fan of current art.

Four carrots
Talimena Scenic Drive (Arkansas Highway 88 intersects U.S. Highway 59/71 in the town of Mena; U.S. Highway 271 Intersect Oklahoma Highway 1.) is a lovely drive no matter what time of year you take the time.

Where we stayed…
Three and one-half carrots
Lime Tree Inn
Lime Tree Inn (804 Hwy 71 North, Mena, AR, 1-800-536-4366) is a nice, clean, basic motel. The beds were comfortable, although the pillows need upgrading, and the shower was very good. It’s a good value for the price. The hotel is locally owned and the owners are onsite. There is a restaurant that serves a buffet at dinner and a buffet along with menu service for breakfast. The locals eat here, although we chose to eat elsewhere for dinner and breakfast.

Three carrots
Comfort Suites (2011 S. E. Walton Blvd., Bentonville AR, 479-254-9099) is a newer hotel
Comfort Suites
with good beds, pillows, and shower. The downside of this place is that there are no fans in the bathrooms so they get really hot and steamy. Also, we were called at 3AM to ask us to ‘keep the noise down’; we were sleeping. Evidently the front desk doesn’t checkout complaints prior to disturbing guests.

What we ate…

Four and one-half carrots
Crabby’s Seafood Bar and Grill (1800 S 52nd St, Rogers, AR, 479-273-0222) is one of the best places we’ve eaten. The chef and his wife own the restaurant and take great pains
Clockwise from top left: Crab cake, salad, sign, risotto,
pork, chowder
to present menus that are original using fresh ingredients. One of my greatest pleasures was that rather than relying on onions, leeks are used extensively. For starters, Dave had a very nice seafood chowder, while Vince and I had the garden salad. Dave had a crab cake that was about five inches in diameter and about three inches thick; it was loaded with lump crab rather than stuffing. The lemon dill butter sauce was spicy without being hot; the sautéed green beans, roasted tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, sweet corn was a nice counterpoint to the crab. Vince had creamy parmesan and white truffle scented seafood risotto, tossed with cherry tomatoes, spinach, leeks, dried cherries, and lemon butter sauce; it was full of shrimp, scallops and fish. I wanted something light, but opted for the grilled pork with bacon wrapped shrimp. This was presented on a bed of gorgonzola mashed potatoes in a honey lemon sauce; it was amazing. The merlot wine was very good, as was my sparkling moscato. The prices were well in line with the quality and amount of food, and the high level of service; however this isn’t a cheap place.
Four carrots
Main Street Barbecue (42 W Main St, Durant, OK, 580-745-9120) hit us with a burst of fragrant smoke when we walked in the door. I had a Pork Slawich with fried okra and sweet
Top L to R: Deer, Pork Slawich
Bottom L to R: Two-meat plate, Beef Sandwich
potato fries. Without sauce the meet tasted smoky and moist; the slaw was crisp, sweet and a good punctuation to the meat. Of course I added the regular sauce which was very tasty. The okra was crispy and not over-salted; the sweet potato fries were okay. Vince had a beef sandwich and okra much like mine, but with jalapeño poppers. He also got the extra hot sauce that he said was good but was only hot in Oklahoma. He was also enamored of the meat and okra. Dave had a two meat plate, beef and ribs, with green beans, mashed potatoes with gravy and a roll that took him right back to his school days – yeasty, fluffy, and aromatic. The prices for our food were very reasonable. We went in for lunch at about 2:00PM on a Saturday. The place was full when we arrived and full when we left; it’s that good. Service was okay, but not excellent.
Three and one-half carrots
Skyline Café (618 Mena St, Mena, AR, 479-394-5152) has been around for 62 years and I
Top: Kielbasa, cafe
Bottom: Inset, Bacon and eggs
don’t suspect that the menu has changed much. This is straight forward, hearty cuisine served simply by waitresses who are loud, good humored, and just waiting to hug regular customers. This is not a place to have a quiet conversation. Vince had bacon, eggs, Kielbasa, hash-brown potatoes and toast. He said they were well cooked and the sausage was tasty. Dave had bacon and eggs including a biscuit and gravy. The gravy was chocked full of sausage and creamy; the biscuit was hot, fluffy and well-browned. I had bacon and eggs with grits and a biscuit. The grits were wonderful, cooked so that they were creamy with a bit of bacon grease for taste. The prices are cheap but the food and service were good. There was a waitress on roller skates bringing food to patrons.
Three carrots

Eleven (600 Museum Way, Bentonville, AR, 479-418-5700 inside the Crystal Bridges Museum) was a bit of a let-down. The architecture is lovely and the views from the windows
Top L to R: Beans, soup
Bottom L to R: Cornbread, Caesar salad
are spectacular. The food is okay. While the website says there is full service, you can only have table service if you reserve a table; otherwise you must go up to the counter and order from an overhead menu. The food prices are quite high for what you get; of course that isn’t surprising in a museum. Dave had a bowl of beans and a side of cornbread; he said that both were quite well prepared but nothing special. I had a Southwest Caesar salad that had spicy chicken on a large bed of romaine lettuce with a nice dressing and roasted corn. Vince had the soup of the day which was a creamy kale with sausage. Waiters brought the food to the table; we picked up our own silver and napkins.

Los Compadre’s (505 W Main St, Hugo, OK, 580-326-8842) is Mexican rather than Tex-

L Top to Bottom: Nachos, Enchilada and taco, Burrito
R Top to Bottom: Tea, Chips and hot sauce
Mex, so there was nothing that was spicy and they didn’t even have Tabasco sauce available. The food was okay and the service was just as average. Vince had an enchilada and a taco. Dave had burrito. I had beef fajita nachos. The chips were good and the sauce tasted strongly of tomatoes. All the food was nicely cooked and seemed fresh, but there was no pizazz.  Service was okay, but they seemed short-handed although the restaurant was not full. This is a family owned establishment that has been in business about 20 years. The locals seem happy with the food. The prices were in line with what we were served.

Paisano’s (1110 Highway 71 S, Mena, AR, 479-385-5055) didn’t live up to its webpage. The menu was quite different from that advertised. There was no Calamari Caesar salad, so
Clockwise from top left: Calamari, Bread sticks,
Lasagna, Antipasta salad, Caesar salad 
I ended up with a plate of calamari and a Caesar salad. The calamari were good and there were a lot of them. The Caesar was a plate of iceberg lettuce with dressing, a very nice cheese and croutons. Vince had an Antipasta Salad with garden greens, Italian meats, provolone cheese, peppers, onions, tomatoes, banana peppers and mixed olives tossed in an Italian dressing. He was quite pleased with the salad. Dave had a lovely, large lasagna that, while it had lots of ground beef, was short on ricotta; the red sauce was tangy. He also ordered a side of bread sticks that were fresh, soft, and garlic covered. I could have made dinner out of these, alone. Service was rather slow and inattentive. We paid more that we should have for this meal.

Sculpture on the grounds of Crystal Bridges Museum

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